Aston Villa take a one-goal lead back to Birmingham for Tuesday night's Championship play-off semi-final second leg against Middlesbrough. Mark O'Haire previews the encounter...
"Middlesbrough’s [3.75] loss at the Riverside means the Teessiders have W1-D2-L8 against top-six teams this term, failing to even score on eight occasions"
Aston Villa v Middlesbrough
Tuesday 14th May, 19:45
Live on Sky Sports
Aston Villa in control
Mile Jedinak's header handed Aston Villa the advantage in their Championship play-off tie with Middlesbrough as they edged a 1-0 win at the Riverside Stadium. The Australian international headed home Jack Grealish's corner in the first half to give Steve Bruce's side the lead ahead of the return at Villa Park.
Chances were at a premium but it was Villa who controlled the game, much to the visible frustration of home supporters. Robert Snodgrass went close to doubling the visitors' lead after concerted pressure, curling the ball toward the far corner but Darren Randolph tipped it onto the post.
Villa boss Bruce restored vital components of his side, such as skipper John Terry and dynamic playmaker Grealish, which gave the visitors composure and craft in equal measure. The only blow was the late injury to full-back Ahmed Elmohamady, who appeared to aggravate his hamstring and now looks doubtful for Tuesday night's tussle.
Middlesbrough fail to fire
A surprisingly flat Middlesbrough fell to a 1-0 home defeat at the Riverside on Saturday. Having enjoyed a hot streak in their run to the play-offs, the Teessiders largely lacked the cutting edge to breakdown their opponents with star man Adama Traore shutdown on the flanks.
Boro's best chance was a Britt Assombalonga header that was saved in the first half as the raucous atmosphere was punctured by the visitors' early goal. Tony Pulis' men came out of their shells as the second half progressed but, even when they got in behind the defence, Villa remained largely untroubled.
Patrick Bamford's introduction late on gave the hosts a sharper focus up front, but even he was unable to supply the firepower to cancel out the deficit. Meanwhile, Daniel Ayala was forced off with a leg injury, rendering him doubtful for the second leg. Fabio will be hoping to be given the starting berth.
Aston Villa [2.32] return home with a one-goal advantage and Steve Bruce's side look well-equipped to negotiate a path to Wembley. The Claret & Blue were unbeaten at Villa Park against top-half teams (W5-D6-L0), a sample that included victories against Wolves, Cardiff and Fulham on home soil.
In contrast, Middlesbrough's [3.75] loss at the Riverside means the Teessiders have W1-D2-L8 against top-six clubs this term, failing to even score on eight occasions. Recording only one clean sheet away to the top 15 teams in the Championship is also cause for concern for the visitors.
Considering only Wolves and Cardiff won more points than Villa as hosts, with only the champions scoring more often, the odds on a offer for Steve Bruce's side to confirm their progression with a second leg win hold plenty of appeal.
If play-off semi-final first legs are renowned for being tight and cagey affairs, the opposite could be said of the return encounters. Goal averages increase from 2.10 to 2.60 with Over 2.5 Goals being surpassed in half of those showdowns since the system was introduced in 1988/89.
It's a familiar theme when viewing Aston Villa and Middlesbrough's regular season home/away encounters. Collectively, the pair have averaged 2.68 goals per-game with 26/46 (57%) breaking the Over 2.5 Goals barrier, suggesting the [2.48] on a repeat is too big to ignore.
Mark's 2017/18 Profit/Loss
Staked: 172.00 pts
Returned: 181.22 pts
P/L: +6.22 pts